Regime-change rumblings? New CIA release suggests Iran conspired with Osama bin Laden

Regime-change rumblings? New CIA release suggests Iran conspired with Osama bin Laden
Six-and-a-half years after the US military killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the CIA has released files seized in the raid. Some of the documents purport to show a link between Iran and al-Qaeda, although not everybody is convinced.

Despite being buried at sea shortly after being shot dead by members of SEAL Team 6 in May 2011, the spirit of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden seems very much alive. Indeed, even in death he continues to provide a justification for censure of particular governments, and more often than not those that are declared enemies of the US.

The nearly half-million documents seized from bin Laden’s compound on the Afghan-Pakistan border include, among other things, Hollywood films, information on the group’s plans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden’s handwritten journal and plans to rehabilitate the al-Qaeda’s “tarnished image” in the Muslim community.

The real shocker discovered among the assorted paraphernalia, however, was alleged proof of “secret dealings” between Tehran and al-Qaeda from a “never-before-seen 19-page document.” This was allegedly written by a senior member of al-Qaeda and is said to provide information on plans between Iran and the terrorist group to attack US interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

The document is said to provide “new insight into the often-adversarial relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran — the Sunni Muslim terror group and the Shiite republic,” AP reported. It then went on to provide a quote by the Long War Journal, which described the document as “a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran.” The “well-connected” al-Qaeda official believed to have authored the document wrote that in return for carrying out attacks on US and Saudi targets, Shiite Iran offered Sunni militants “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.”

Curious timing

Skeptics, however, were quick to point out the uncanny timing of the document’s release, coming just weeks after Trump decertified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement forged during the Obama administration between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — to regulate Iran’s nuclear program. The US leader’s controversial decision to turn up the pressure on Tehran, seemingly without good cause, sparked global outcry and threatened to isolate the Trump administration even further on the global stage.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Washington does not have the right to unilaterally revoke a deal that was the product of tough negotiations between multiple states. “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it,” Mogherini said. “It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Meanwhile, a former CIA analyst who resigned from the agency over misgivings with the Trump administration, Edward Price, has expressed public skepticism of the CIA claims. In a lengthy thread posted to Twitter, Price suggested we are witnessing an intelligence agency “ploy” similar to the one that preceded the 2003 attack on Iraq, although this time it is Iran that may be the new candidate for regime change.

<THREAD> @CIA released what it claims are the final public files from Bin Laden’s lair. I’m all for transparency, but this isn’t about that.

“The CIA released what it claims are the final public files from Bin Laden’s lair. I’m all for transparency, but this isn’t about that,” Price wrote. He went to note that in January, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], which led the declassification work, released what it said was the last tranche of Bin Laden files. The DNI concluded that, with the January release, all those of public interest were released.

“But a funny thing happened when CIA Director Pompeo came into office,” Price wrote. “I’m told he re-launched a review of the files. In doing so, he took officers away from important missions to pore – and re-pore – over the millions of documents. How can we be sure this was a CIA effort? Unlike previous releases, today’s files are hosted on CIA.gov, not the DNI site. Why would he do that? It seems he’s convinced the unreleased files would tie al-Qaeda to Iran.”

Regime Change Playbook

2003:
Saddam supports Al Qaeda.

2014-16:
Assad supports ISIS.

2017-:
Iran supports Al Qaeda.

After all, it was due to the CIA’s “bad intelligence” on Iraq and its alleged cooperation with al-Qaeda militants, which led to the invasion and overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein by the Bush administration.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, reporting just days before the US incursion into Iraq, “there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding al-Qaeda. Yet the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq and demonstrate seriousness of purpose to Hussein’s regime,” it wrote, quoting sources knowledgeable about US intelligence.

READ MORE: Osama Bin Laden’s son shown in CIA-captured footage

“The administration has succeeded in creating a sense that there is some connection [between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein],” Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, told CSM.

Although there is no way to prove any sinister intentions on the part of the CIA and the Trump administration with regards to the sudden discovery of this document, it will be very difficult to convince Iran otherwise.

This is the fourth CIA release of bin Laden documents since the first trove of documents was published in May 2015.

 

Courtesy: RT

N. Korea may be ‘months’ away from capability to nuke US, CIA chief hints

N. Korea may be ‘months’ away from capability to nuke US, CIA chief hints
North Korea may be “months” away from capability of striking US soil with nuclear weapons, CIA Director Mike Pompeo hinted.

“They [North Korea] are close enough now in their capabilities that, from a US-policy perspective, we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving [ability to strike the US],” Pompeo said, speaking at a national security forum in Washington on Thursday, as cited by AP.

According to the CIA chief, intelligence data gathered on Pyongyang and its current weapons capabilities is still imperfect.

 growing ever closer to having its  capability “perfected,” says @CIA Director Pompeo, speaking at @FDD.

“When you’re now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant,” said Pompeo.

“We are at a time where the [US] President [Donald Trump] has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un doesn’t have that capacity,” he added.

‘If Kim suddenly dies, ‘I’m just not going to talk about it’

When asked what would happen if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un suddenly died, Pompeo said that such speculation was futile.

“If Kim Jong-un should vanish, given the history of the CIA, I’m just not going to talk about it,” Pompeo said with apparent irony, as cited by AFP.

“Someone might think there was a coincidence. ‘You know, there was an accident.’ It’s just not fruitful,” he continued.

North Korea claimed earlier this month that the CIA together attempted to kill Kim with the cooperation of South Korean intelligence, state-run KCNA agency reported, without substantiating the claim.

READ MORE: Myriad ways CIA tried and failed to assassinate Fidel Castro 

Trump and Kim have been engaged in a fierce war of words in recent months, with comments from each side becoming more and more aggressive. On one occasion, the US President vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea.

In one of his latest comments on the North Korean crisis, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Washington would continue its diplomatic efforts to solve the North Korean crisis only “until first bomb drops.”

In the meantime, North Korea has repeatedly threatened to reduce the US to “ashes and darkness.” On Thursday, Pyongyang warned of an “unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time” on US targets, expressing outrage at the ongoing US-South Korean joint naval drills near the Korean Peninsula.

Earlier this month, An Tong Chun, head of North Korea’s delegation to the multinational Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that it was the US who pushed North Korea into making a hydrogen bomb.

North Korea’s Deputy UN Ambassador Kim In-ryong escalated the rhetoric by warning the UN General Assembly that the crisis on the Korean Peninsula “has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”  

Russia and China have been pushing for a “double-freeze” plan, which would see Pyongyang suspend its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a halt to joint US-South Korea military drills. However, Washington rejected the proposal.

READ MORE: US, South Korea begin naval drills off Korean Peninsula 

On Friday, Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian Duma, once again called for dialogue to solve the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

“I hope our colleagues in Washington have enough common sense and will stop aggravating the situation with North Korea and will join Russia and other countries that call for the resolution of the conflict in Korea in a diplomatic way,”Slutsky said.

Courtesy: RT

JFK assassination: Lawmakers call on Trump to release all classified documents

Fifty-four years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two U.S. lawmakers who lived through the ordeal are calling for the declassification of thousands of pages of long-secret government documents related to his death.

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The disclosure, they believe, will answer a question that has for half a century plagued the American public: Did anyone help or have knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald’s plan to kill Kennedy?

“I believe the American public needs to know the truth,” said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is leading a congressional effort to declassify thousands of documents and recordings compiled by the CIA and FBI.

“It’s still hard for me to believe it was one man, but at the same time I have no proof that it wasn’t,” said Jones, who watched on live television as Oswald, awaiting transfer to a county jail, was shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby two days after Oswald assassinated Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

Decades after Kennedy’s assassination, many still wonder whether Oswald acted alone or had help.  (AP)

“There’s no reason that the information – from a security standpoint – should not be made public,” Jones told Fox News. “So much is known about the assassination. Why not close the chapter?”

Jones and Grassley cite a law signed by former President George H.W. Bush mandating the release of all documents related to Kennedy’s assassination within 25 years. Under the JFK Records Act of 1992, the National Archives has until Oct. 26 of this year to disclose the remaining files related to the assassination – unless President Trump determines that doing so would be harmful to national security. There are about 3,100 files still unsealed by the National Archives.

Approximately four million pages of records were released to the public in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The CIA and other government agencies can postpone disclosure of the remaining documents but only with permission from Trump.

A CIA spokeswoman told Fox News the agency “continues to engage in the process to determine the appropriate next steps with respect to any previously-unreleased CIA information.”

The Trump administration, meanwhile, said the decision to release the documents is currently under review.

“We have been working closely with the National Archives and other departments and agencies since the beginning of this administration on processes that are consistent with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act,” an official with the National Security Council told Fox News on Tuesday.

jfk2

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., (left) and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are leading a congressional effort to declassify thousands of documents and recordings compiled by the CIA and FBI.

“This work continues in anticipation of the October deadline,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The Warren Commission, the independent panel assigned to investigate the murder, concluded in 1964 that Oswald — a former Marine and self-proclaimed Marxist – was the sole person responsible for Kennedy’s assassination. CIA officials had told the commission there was no evidence of a conspiracy that the spy agency could have prevented.

But hundreds of never-before-seen assassination documents released by the National Archives in July show the CIA began to question whether the official conclusion was wrong in the years following the assassination. Of particular concern was whether the CIA had thoroughly probed Oswald’s contacts with agents for the Communist governments of Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Oswald had traveled to Mexico City weeks before the murder and visited both the Soviet and Cuban embassies. The Warren Commission said Oswald’s stated reason for the trip was to obtain visas that would allow him entry into Cuba and the Soviet Union, but many details about the trip remain a mystery.

“The assassination of President Kennedy occurred at a pivotal time for our nation, and nearly 54 years later, we are still learning the details of how our government responded and what it may have known beforehand,” said Grassley. “Americans deserve a full picture of what happened that fateful day in November 1963.

JFK_1

Fifty-four years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two U.S. lawmakers who lived through the ordeal are calling for the declassification of thousands of pages of long-secret government documents related to his death.

The documents unsealed in July also include a 1975 internal CIA memo that raised questions about Oswald’s motive. The memo cites a 1963 Associated Press article that ran in a newspaper shortly before the assassination, quoting Fidel Castro as saying, “U.S. leaders would be in danger if they helped in any attempt to do away with leaders of Cuba.”

Grassley and Jones, as well as Kennedy scholars, wonder whether the remaining secret documents might reveal clues suggesting Oswald had help – or confirm he acted alone.

“The papers should be released. We, the people, paid for all of this,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of a book about Kennedy.

“We want to see what they [the government] knew and when they knew it,” he told Fox News.

Sabato said he has little doubt that Oswald was the only shooter in Dealey Plaza as Kennedy rode in an open motorcade with his wife, Jacqueline, and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife.

But Sabato said he questions whether others assisted or had knowledge of Oswald’s plot.

“The remaining question is: Did anyone help him or was it merely that people knew and didn’t report it in time to save Kennedy’s life?”

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.

Courtesy, Fox News

India’s partition and 70 years of proxy jihad

The use of proxy jihadis in the Indian sub-continent is as old as India and Pakistan’s independence from British rule. 70 years after partition, the jihadist network has become so huge that it threatens both states.

Afghanistan Taliban Kämpfer (Getty Images/AFP/J. Tanveer)

In a recent interview with DW, Pakistani politician Imran Khan argued that the US intervention in Afghanistan is the main reason behind the rise of jihadi phenomenon in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Khan is only partly correct. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pakistani military’s spy group, the ISI, collaborated closely in Afghanistan to defeat Soviet forces in the 1980s. Washington and Islamabad invested heavily in Afghan mujahideen (Afghan “holy warriors”) and provided them militaristic and logistic support to fight the Moscow-backed government in Kabul. From the point of view of the US and Pakistan, it was a successful campaign. The mujahideen forced Soviet troops to retreat and were able to take control of the Afghan capital, Kabul. But what Khan and many others, who associate Afghan jihad with the Cold War’s US-Soviet rivalry, gloss over is the fact that Pakistan’s support for jihadis began as early as the country’s independence in 1947. Analysts say it spiked in the 1950s and peaked in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

Read: Opinion: The anniversary of hatred

Pakistan’s use of jihadi proxies has always been India-centric. Now when the West admonishes Islamabad for not relinquishing support to some factions of the Taliban, or the Haqqani Network, they overlook Pakistan’s concerns about Indian influence in Afghanistan. Also, and equally, significant is India’s control over a large part of the Kashmir region, which Islamabad considers a threat to its interests.

Watch video00:39

Imran Khan: military solution has failed in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Unsurprisingly, soon after India and Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947, the two nations got embroiled in a conflict over Kashmir, which continues to date.

The first jihad

“It is factually and historically incorrect that Pakistan started using jihad as an instrument of its defense policy in the 1980s. In reality, it happened as early as September, 1947, when Pakistani authorities armed and sent tribal militias to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Arif Jamal, a US-based journalist and author of several books, including “Shadow War – The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir” and “Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1985-2014,” told DW.

“These jihadis were dispatched to Kashmir under a well thought out plan conceived by Colonel Akbar Khan. The first prime minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, and some members of his cabinet, participated in the planning. It is not confirmed whether Pakistan’s founder and Governor General, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was taken into confidence over this mission,” Jamal added.

“Jinnah had signed a stand-still agreement with the Maharaja (ruler) of Jammu and Kashmir, and jihad by tribesmen violated that agreement. The Maharaja then invited Indian troops to defend the state, which led to the first war between India and Pakistan and the division of Kashmir by the end of 1948,” said the expert.

Talat Bhat, a Sweden-based documentary filmmaker and director of the Kashmir Record and Research Council, told DW the jihadis’ involvement in the Kashmir dispute has had a negative impact on the secular and independent nature of the Kashmiri movement.

“Kashmir’s independent movement began in 1948 and kept gaining strength in Indian-occupied areas until 1985, a year after the hanging of the separatist leader Maqbool Bhat in 1984. His Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) party declared war on India in 1988, which also led to a popular independence movement,” Bhat said.

“But in 1991, Pakistan’s ISI created Hizbul Mujadeen (HM), an Islamist militant organization, to counter secular JKLF. Between 1991 and 1993, most JKLF commanders were either killed or jailed by HM or Indian troops. In 1994, JKLF declared unilateral ceasefire but Islamabad sent more Islamists, who had fought the war in Afghanistan, to Kashmir,” Bhat underlined.

Bhat is of the view that India benefited from the jihadis’ involvement as it allowed it to justify its oppression and “occupation” of Kashmir.

Read: The Islamization of Kashmir’s separatist movement

Watch video03:33

Inside India’s first partition museum

Indian influence

But blaming Pakistan for the jihadi situation and exonerating India from any responsibility would not be an objective analysis of the conflicts in the region.

Not only that Indian oppression in Kashmir is well-documented and criticized by international human rights organizations, India’s efforts to increase its influence in Afghanistan have also been pointed at by analysts. Experts say that Pakistan was justifiably worried about a pro-New Delhi and pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan right after the partition. Also, Pakistan did not want ethnic Pashtuns in its northwestern province to ally with Afghan Pashtuns.

– Mullah Omar: An Islamist who fought against two world powers

– The godfather of the Taliban: Hamid Gul and his legacy

After the Soviet exit from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and the Pakistan-backed Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, India only regained influence in the war-torn country following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the Taliban regime. Since then, India has heavily invested in the country hoping to minimize Pakistan’s role in Afghan politics. New Delhi also diplomatically supports separatists in Pakistan’s western Baluchistan province.

“Afghanistan does interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs with some help from Indians,” Wahid Muzhda, a Kabul-based security analyst, told DW.

“India had close ties with the former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah from 1933 to 1973. It is in India’s interest to keep Pakistan under pressure, and Afghanistan has always remained as one its main means of achieving this objective,” Muzhda added.

Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a lecturer at Kabul University, says that Afghanistan attempted to support Pashtun separatist movements in Pakistan from 1950 to 1970. “When Pakistan became stronger as a state, it started supporting different jihadi groups against the government in Kabul,” Zaland told DW.

Although many people think that military dictator Zia ul-Haq was the one who launched jihadi forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, analyst Arif Jamal believes it was Pakistan’s socialist Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

“In 1975, Bhutto invited many Afghan Islamists to Islamabad and convinced them to wage a jihad against the Afghan government. Many of these jihadists later emerged as leading mujahideen commanders in the 1980s,” Jamal said.

Read: Why are the Afghans wary of Pakistan?

But Zaland is of the view that the fear of Indian influence does not justify Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan.

“Indian diplomatic missions in Kandahar, Herat, Kabul and Nangarhar have become targets of deadly Islamist attacks since 2001. This shows the level of influence Pakistan enjoys over jihadis,” Zaland said.

Experts say the use of proxy jihadis in Afghanistan and Kashmir is as dangerous for Pakistan as it is for India. For a decade, Islamist militants have been wreaking havoc in Pakistan, targeting both civilians and security forces. The jihadi network has become so huge and complex that the state no longer has absolute control over it.

Read: How have India and Pakistan fared economically since partition?

Additional reporting by Masood Saifullah.

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Courtesy, DW

Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians

Photo

President Trump escorting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel into the White House in February.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information. The revelation adds a potential diplomatic complication to an episode that has renewed questions about how the White House handles sensitive intelligence.

Israel is one of the United States’ most important allies and runs one of the most active espionage networks in the Middle East. Mr. Trump’s boasting about some of Israel’s most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries and raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the region.

Israeli officials would not confirm that they were the source of the information that Mr. Trump shared, which was about an Islamic State plot. In a statement emailed to The New York Times, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, reaffirmed that the two countries would maintain a close counterterrorism relationship.

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Mr. Dermer said.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he had an “absolute right” to share information in the interest of fighting terrorism and called his meeting with the Russians “very, very successful” in a brief appearance later at the White House.

On Capitol Hill, reaction split along party lines, but even many Republicans indicated that they wanted the White House to show more discipline.

“There’s some alignments that need to take place over there, and I think they’re fully aware of that,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Just the decision-making processes and everybody being on the same page.”

In the meeting last week, Mr. Trump told Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, details about the Islamic State plot, including the city in Syria where the ally learned the information, the current official said. At least some of the details that the United States has about the Islamic State plot came from the Israelis, said the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It was not clear whether the president or the other Americans in the meeting were aware of the sensitivity of what was shared. Only afterward, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, was the information flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the officials said.

Intelligence officials worried that Mr. Trump provided enough details to effectively expose the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected.

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, defended Mr. Trump’s move, saying the president made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tell the Russians what he knew and did not expose the source of the intelligence because he was not told where it came from.

Moreover, General McMaster said that by discussing the city where the information originated, the president had not given away secrets. “It was nothing that you would not know from open-source reporting in terms of a source of concern,” he said. “And it had all to do with operations that are already ongoing, had been made public for months.”

Two senior United States military officials said that Mr. Trump’s disclosures seemed to align with an increasing concern that militants responsible for such attacks were slipping out of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, and taking refuge in other cities under their control, such as Deir al-Zour and Mayadeen.

These officials said they had no specific knowledge of what Mr. Trump told the two senior Russian diplomats in the Oval Office last week, or how that related to a likely decision expected soon by the Homeland Security Department to expand its ban on carrying portable electronics. But the officials said the timing of the events seemed hardly a coincidence.

American and British authorities in March barred passengers from airports in 10 predominantly Muslim countries from carrying laptop computers, iPads and other devices larger than a cellphone aboard inbound flights to the United States after intelligence analysts concluded that the Islamic State was developing a type of bomb hidden in batteries. Homeland Security officials are considering whether to broaden the ban to include airports in Europe and possibly other places, American security officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Trump’s disclosure was also likely to fuel questions about the president’s relationship with Moscow at the same time that the F.B.I. and congressional committees are investigating whether his associates cooperated with Russian meddling in last year’s election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed such suspicions as false stories spread by Democrats to explain their election defeat, but his friendly approach toward President Vladimir V. Putin in spite of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and other actions has stirred controversy.

The timing of the episode also threatened to overshadow Mr. Trump’s first trip abroad as president. He is scheduled to leave on Friday for Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium.

In Israel, he was already likely to contend with Israeli officials rattled by the administration’s refusal to say outright that the Western Wall, one of the holiest prayer sites in Judaism, lies in Israel, and is not subject to territorial claims by the Palestinians. The wall is in Jerusalem — part of what is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam. Both the Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

Now, the Americans and Israelis will have to contend with the serious breach of espionage etiquette. Israel had previously urged the United States to be careful about the handling of the intelligence that Mr. Trump discussed, the officials said.

Former officials said it was not uncommon for presidents to unintentionally say too much in meetings, and they said that in administrations from both parties, staff members typically established bright lines for their bosses to avoid crossing before such meetings.

“The Russians have the widest intelligence collection mechanism in the world outside of our own,” said John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the C.I.A. who served in Moscow in the 1990s and later ran the agency’s Russia program for three years. “They can put together a good picture with just a few details. They can marry President Trump’s comments with their own intelligence, and intelligence from their allies. They can also deploy additional resources to find out details.”

Nonetheless, General McMaster said he was not concerned that information sharing among partner countries might stop.

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” General McMaster said at a White House briefing, seeking to play down the sensitivity of the information that Mr. Trump disclosed.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, declined to tell reporters whether the White House had reached out to the ally that provided the sensitive intelligence.

But General McMaster appeared to acknowledge that Thomas P. Bossert, the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and counterterrorism, had called the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency after the meeting with the Russian officials. Other officials have said that the spy agencies were contacted to help contain the damage from the leak to the Russians.

General McMaster would not confirm that Mr. Bossert made the calls but suggested that if he did, he was acting “maybe from an overabundance of caution.”

The episode could have far-reaching consequences, Democrats warned. Any country that shares intelligence with American officials “could decide it can’t trust the United States with information, or worse, that it can’t trust the president of the United States with information,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

“I have to hope that someone will counsel the president about just what it means to protect closely held information and why this is so dangerous, ultimately, to our national security,” Mr. Schiff said at a policy conference in Washington sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

Russia dismissed the reports. A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that Mr. Trump had given classified information to Russian officials, and she denigrated American news reports of the disclosure as “fake.”

Sharing the United States’ own intelligence with Russia, much less information from a foreign ally, has long been a contentious issues in American national security circles. In fact, many Republicans strenuously objected last year when the Obama administration proposed sharing limited intelligence about Syria with Russia.

One of the Republicans was Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Kansas who now runs the C.I.A. In an appearance last year on a podcast hosted by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official now best known for his anti-Muslim views, Mr. Pompeo said sharing intelligence with the Russians was a “dumb idea.”

Trump Shifts Rationale for Firing Comey, Calling Him a ‘Showboat’

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Trump on Comey: ‘He’s a Showboat’

President Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that the F.B.I. was in turmoil, and that he was going to fire its director, James B. Comey, regardless of any recommendation.

By NBC NEWS. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

WASHINGTON — President Trump offered a new version of his decision to fire James B. Comey, saying on Thursday that he would have dismissed the F.B.I. director regardless of whether the attorney general and his deputy recommended it.

It was just the latest in a series of statements, some of them contradictory, to whiplash Washington over 48 hours that began with Mr. Comey’s firing on Tuesday evening. And it was unusually harsh: Mr. Trump castigated Mr. Comey as “a showboat” and “a grandstander,” suggesting that his issues with the F.B.I. director went beyond any previously stated concerns.

Mr. Trump said on Thursday that he had not relied solely on the advice from the Justice Department’s top two leaders in making his decision. And, for the first time, he explicitly referenced the F.B.I.’s investigation into his administration’s ties to Russia in defending Mr. Comey’s firing.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

Earlier, the White House had said that Mr. Trump acted only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came to him and recommended that Mr. Comey be dismissed because of his handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. In his Tuesday letter terminating Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said he had “accepted their recommendation.” And Vice President Mike Pence, talking to reporters, echoed his boss.

Continue reading the main story

But by the next day, that story had begun to unravel.

Mr. Rosenstein and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, spoke by telephone on Wednesday to review details that precipitated the firing, seeking to agree on a version of events that could be released to the public.

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led Up to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

White House officials initially said President Trump acted based on the recommendation of Justice Department officials, but Mr. Trump later said he would have fired the F.B.I. director regardless.

OPEN GRAPHIC

That conversation led to a new timeline that the White House shared with reporters hours later. It said that Mr. Trump had in recent weeks been “strongly inclined to remove” Mr. Comey, but that he had made his final decision only after receiving written recommendations on Tuesday from Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions.

And then on Thursday, the president himself brushed away that narrative, reversing his own aides’ version of events.

In fact, the president asserted, he had decided to fire Mr. Comey well before he received the advice from the Justice Department officials. He said he was frustrated by Mr. Comey’s public testimony regarding the F.B.I. investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and its possible contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.

“I was going to fire Comey — my decision,” Mr. Trump told NBC. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The president’s comments appeared aimed at reassuring Mr. Rosenstein, who was reportedly upset at the White House’s original narrative that seemed to suggest he had instigated Mr. Comey’s firing. The White House has cited Mr. Rosenstein’s reputation as a straight shooter in justifying Mr. Trump’s move.

But the president’s story line left the White House struggling to explain his motivation for firing his F.B.I. director a day after calling the Russia investigation nothing more than a “taxpayer funded charade” that should end.

Photo

The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, above, was reportedly upset at the White House’s initial narrative around the firing of James. B. Comey. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Critics said the credibility of the White House had been badly damaged and renewed calls for a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, independent of the administration.

The White House’s explanation was challenged on Thursday in other ways as well. The president’s spokeswoman said on Wednesday that Mr. Comey was fired in part because he had lost the support of rank-and-file F.B.I. employees. But on Thursday, Andrew G. McCabe, the new acting director of the agency, told the Senate that Mr. Comey enjoyed “broad support within the F.B.I. and still does to this day.”

And while the White House said on Wednesday that the Russia inquiry was only a small part of the bureau’s activities, Mr. McCabe called it “a highly significant investigation.”

Throughout the rapidly shifting 48 hours, Mr. Rosenstein appeared to be caught in the middle.

Confirmed just last month, he made a trip to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a previously unannounced meeting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In a brief hallway conversation with a reporter, Mr. Rosenstein denied reports that he had threatened to quit.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has agreed to invite Mr. Rosenstein to brief the entire Senate next week, said the minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

In his Wednesday deliberations, Mr. Rosenstein made clear that the timeline needed to be accurate, and that he did not want to “massage” the version of events. His discussions included Mr. McGahn, Mr. Sessions and other senior administration officials, according to a person familiar with the conversation who was not authorized to discuss it. It concluded with a four-sentence statement that was released by the White House on Wednesday evening.

That statement noted that Mr. Trump had met with both Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions on Monday to discuss reasons to remove Mr. Comey. It said that Mr. Rosenstein had submitted his written recommendation to Mr. Sessions on Tuesday, who sent his own recommendation to Mr. Trump soon afterward.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo, while highly critical of Mr. Comey’s actions over the past year, stopped short of explicitly recommending his ouster. “Although the president has the power to remove an F.B.I. director,” he wrote, “the decision should not be taken lightly.”

In the NBC interview, Mr. Trump elaborated on his claim that Mr. Comey had told him on three occasions that the president himself was not under investigation. The F.B.I. has been looking into whether associates of Mr. Trump and his campaign coordinated with Russia as Moscow orchestrated an effort to intervene in the American election and tilt the election to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Comey had reassured him first at a private dinner, and then during two phone conversations. He acknowledged that he had directly asked if he was being investigated.

“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know if I’m under investigation?’” Mr. Trump said. “He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’”

The admission raised questions on Thursday among reporters, who asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, whether it was inappropriate for the president to ask the F.B.I. director whether he was under investigation. “No, I don’t believe it is,” Ms. Sanders said.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, briefed reporters on Thursday.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

The president said Mr. Comey requested the dinner early in his administration to ask to keep his job. That would be an unusual — and perhaps unnecessary — step for an F.B.I. director, who by law is appointed for a 10-year term. Mr. Comey was four years into his term when Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

“He wanted to stay on as the F.B.I. head,” Mr. Trump said. “I said: ‘I’ll consider. We’ll see what happens.’ But we had a very nice dinner and at that time, he told me I wasn’t under investigation, which I knew anyway.”

In explaining his decision to fire Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said that “the F.B.I. has been in turmoil” since last year, an apparent reference to the controversy over how the Clinton investigation was managed, and “it hasn’t recovered from that.”

Mr. Trump also insisted, as he has before, that there was “no collusion between my campaign and Russia.”

The interview underscored what has been a continuing challenge for the Trump administration to provide the public with accurate information about the president’s actions and motivations.

On Tuesday evening, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in an interview on Fox Business Network that it was Mr. Rosenstein who had “made a determination” about Mr. Comey and the president had followed it. At the time, Mr. Spicer was merely dutifully relaying the White House’s position.

Mr. Pence did the same in his comments to reporters the next day. And at the daily White House briefing on Wednesday, Ms. Sanders was asked whether the advice from Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions was only a pretext for a decision the president had already made. “No,” she said.

On Thursday, after the president’s NBC interview, she changed gears.

“I hadn’t had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president,” she said. “I’d had several conversations with him, but I didn’t ask that question directly — ‘had you already made that decision.’ I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question.”

But she stuck by her contention that Mr. Comey had lost the faith of his employees — even though the agency’s acting director had contradicted it. “I’ve certainly heard from a large number of individuals, and that’s just myself,” Ms. Sanders said, “and I don’t even know that many people in the F.B.I.”

Correction: May 11, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the middle initial for the deputy attorney general. He is Rod J. Rosenstein, not Rod S. Rosenstein.

Continue reading the main story

Russia ‘full-scope cyber actor’ that will remain ‘major threat’ to US ‒ intel director

Russia 'full-scope cyber actor' that will remain 'major threat' to US ‒ intel director
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has accused Russia of being a “full-scope cyber actor” that will remain a “major threat” to the US government. The DNI made the comments during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats.

Coats was joined by several other heads of the intelligence community: CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo.

The panel discussed worldwide threats to the US, ranging from cybersecurity dangers by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to international crises involving North Korea and terrorism.

“I understand that many people tuned in today are hopeful we’ll focus solely on the Russian investigation of their involvement in our elections. Let me disappoint everybody up front,” Chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said in his opening statement. “While the committee certainly views Russian intervention in our elections as a significant threat, the purpose of today’s hearing is to review and highlight to the extent possible the ranges of threats that we face as a nation.”

Despite Burr’s intentions, much of the focus, especially from Democrats, was dominated by discussions of alleged Russian cyber penetration into the US and French presidential elections, as well as the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. McCabe took the place of former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired on Tuesday.

Russia is ‘greatest threat of any nation on Earth’ – FBI director https://on.rt.com/8apd 

‘Russian interference’

Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Virginia) immediately began focusing on Russia, Comey’s firing and the FBI probe. He asked if the intel community’s late January assessment accurately characterized Russian interference in the 2016 election, to which the entire panel answered yes.

He also asked about the alleged Russian hacking in the French presidential election. On Tuesday, Rogers informed a different Senate committee that the US notified French officials that it had found evidence of Russian hacking. Warner wanted to know what the US is doing to prevent future Russian interference.

In his written testimony, Coats discussed how Russian interference has advanced.

“Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture,” which “was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election,” and that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the… data thefts and disclosures,” he wrote.

It has also spread elsewhere, including Montenegro and Ukraine, Coats told the senators, especially with its manipulation of social media. Russia is a “great threat to democratic process,” he said, accusing Moscow of seeking to “maintain control over Kiev and frustrating European integration” in 2017.

Pompeo also cited the importance of social media as a tool for Russian cyber interference, saying it presents a continuing threat.

“There’s nothing new, only the cost has been lowered,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in other countries’ elections and internal politics. Several members of the intelligence community have admitted that the alleged Russian interference in the US would have been about changing minds, but didn’t change physical votes.

Other cyber threats

Echoing Rogers’ testimony on cybersecurity in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the panel discussed other countries ‒ specifically China, Iran and North Korea ‒ that are involved in cyber warfare and hacking.

“Our adversaries are becoming bolder, more capable and more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and shape real-world outcomes,” said Coats. “And the number of adversaries grows as nation states, terrorist groups, criminal organizations and others continue to develop cyber capabilities.”

China is targeting both the US government and American companies, Coats said, but noted that the attacks have decreased since Washington and Beijing reached a “common understanding”on cyber spying in 2015. Tehran is making use of its high-tech capabilities, Coats said, outlining a 2013 Iranian hacking incident and a 2014 data-deletion attack. North Korea “previously conducted cyber-attacks against US commercial entities,” he said in his written testimony, citing the 2014 Sony hack, and “remains capable of launching disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support its political objectives” against both the US and its allies.

Although Rogers noted on Monday that US Cyber Command, which he also heads, is “still trying to find a way forward” on creating a cybersecurity plan, Pompeo praised the Trump administration’s headway in the area.

“This administration has reentered the battlespace in places the previous administration was absent,” the CIA director said.

Coats, however, sided with Rogers, telling Senator John Lankford (R-Oklahoma): “All of us would agree we need a cyber doctrine.”

North Korea

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, Coats described North Korea as a “very significant, potentially existential” threat to the US, while Pompeo told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): “We haven’t seen anything that would make any of us feel any better about this threat.”

However, the CIA director told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), “the Chinese have made efforts they have not made before” using trade, including restricting coal, but noted that Beijing can do more to pressure Pyongyang on its nuclear program. Coats agreed with that assessment, telling Feinstein that “interaction with the Chinese of late, we think, can play a significant role in terms of how we deal with this.”

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula https://on.rt.com/8b75 

Photo published for China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

Beijing has tested a new missile close to the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions in the region, after North Korea, South Korea, and the US recently conducted military drills in the area.

rt.com

On the reclusive country’s increased testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Stewart of the DIA warned that, although North Korea hasn’t yet carried out a complete test of ICBM with a nuclear device, “they’re going to put those two together at some point.”

The panel declined to answer many of the senators’ questions on North Korea, preferring instead to reserve their responses for a second, closed hearing on Thursday afternoon.

War on Terror

Afghanistan, where the US “war on terrorism” began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a major concern, Stewart told Burr. “Unless we change something, such as inserting US forces or NATO forces, that changes the balance of forces on the ground… the situation will continue to deteriorate” and all the gains of the past several years will be lost.

militants developing own social media platform, ‘its own part of the internet to run its agenda’ https://on.rt.com/8amo 

Referencing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Coats said the terrorist group “will continue to be a threat to the US,” as it “maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist, and inspire transnational attacks.”

“This threat will persist with many attacks happening with little or no warning,” he said.

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